An effervescent ride chock-full of memorable action and characters.

SOUTH OF GOOD

A Texas sheriff tries to take down a drug lord pushing cocaine across the Mexican-U.S. border and winds up dodging bullets in Cuba and the Cayman Islands in Reneau’s (Ruby Silver, 2014, etc.) latest thriller.

When pilot and marijuana transporter Wes Stoddard tells Cameron County Sheriff Hardin Steel that he wants to go straight, the sheriff asks for a trade-off: Wes can help the DEA get his boss, Frederick Ochoa. But their plan for Wes to sell DEA-confiscated cocaine back to Ochoa backfires when Russian Alexsie Yazov, who works for Ochoa, decides to steal the coke and, for good measure, kidnap Rory Roughton, daughter of an oil tycoon and Hardin’s sometimes-girlfriend. Yazov, however, doesn’t release Rory, despite a paid ransom. So Hardin, Wes and PI Buck Bateman initiate a rescue mission in Cuba, made even more dangerous by the fact that Ochoa, still pissed about his missing cocaine, is invested in killing all of them. The novel often feels like a series of action scenes, one trailing after the other: A sting operation begets a double-cross begets retaliation and so on. Where Reneau truly excels is the action: Hardin and his pals enact blistering sequences, from a high-speed boat chase to a quick escape in a seaplane. And these scenes are rife with shocks, as one of the criminals (much worse than Wes) makes an unlikely ally for Hardin (readers should be wary of getting too attached to Hardin’s buddies). Regardless of all of the gunfire, as well as the occasional surface-to-air missile, the story generally takes on its protagonist’s easygoing nature. It’s a lighthearted affair, even considering that there are contracts out on Hardin, Wes and Buck (Hardin calls the trio “contractees”). But there’s also a visceral moment or two, because a torturer, like many of the book’s characters, will probably suffer a violent reprisal. Reneau concludes the story with a hint that something (or maybe someone) is pending and will return, welcome or not, in Book 2.

An effervescent ride chock-full of memorable action and characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497342477

Page Count: 354

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2014

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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